Sunday, October 22, 2023

The First Step To Mission

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

World Mission Sunday

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 95 (96):1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21

Picture: By Justin Follis on Unsplash

My dear friends, can you complete this saying: behind every successful man, there is a…? According to one version, behind every successful man, there is a strong woman. But this may sound sexist. So some have revised it to say, beside every successful man Others turn it into a joke, such as, behind every successful man, there is a… surprised mother-in-law. But, seriously, what are we really doing when we look behind someone’s success? Aren’t we engaging in an act of attribution? We attribute or give credit for what is seen in the foreground–a person’s success–to the possibly unseen work or influence of someone else, in the background. Attribution. Isn’t this what we find in our scriptures today?

In the first reading, the Persian king Cyrus has been very successful. He has conquered the mighty Babylonians, and then generously allowed the long-suffering Israelites to return from exile, and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. While some may consider this nothing more than a stroke of good luck, or simply the result of a change in geopolitics, in faith, the prophet attributes it to God. It is God who has called, anointed, and armed Cyrus to save the people.

In the second reading, St Paul congratulates the Christian community in Thessalonica for having successfully shown its faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope in Jesus Christ. He then attributes their success to the power that God gave them, when Paul first brought them the Good News. Even more, Paul is moved to render praise and thanks to God. We always… thank God for you all, he says.

Faith empowering attribution, which then motivates praise and thanksgiving. Isn’t this what we find in the psalm too? What does it mean to give the Lord glory and power? How to give God what already belongs to God? In another translation of the same verse, we’re told to ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. In other words, to credit God for God’s mighty works. And then to be moved not just to offer praise and thanks, but also to worship the Lord in his temple, and to proclaim to the nations, ‘God is king’.

Allowing faith to empower attribution, which then motivates praise and thanksgiving, worship and proclamation. And, of course, by proclamation, the faith is spread further, and the cycle begins again. What do we have here, my dear friends, if not a spiritual roadmap for mission? Could this be what Jesus is referring to in the gospel, when he tells his opponents to give back to God what belongs to God? But doesn’t everything already belong to God? Again, could it be that what we’re being asked to do is to count our blessings, to credit God for all the good we have received? If this is true, then the first step to becoming a more missionary church is simply to engage in the humble and honest act of attribution.

Sisters and brothers, if we truly believe that the loving and merciful hand of God lies behind all our successes, then what must we do to give God more credit today?

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